Passage: Acts 10:34–48
If you remember from two weeks ago, Peter is really beginning to wrestle with all the implications of Jesus’ teachings. He’s beginning to look less Jewish as he does things like staying with a tanner who was unclean because he worked with unclean animals. Peter is now eating unclean foods, thanks to a vision from God. Now, Peter learns that men are being sent to him from Cornelius the Roman centurion of the Italian cohort down by the sea. Cornelius is a God fearing man, partial to the Jewish faith, who has had a revelation from God that this man called Simon (Peter) is the one who can tell him what he needs to know.
Now, this is a huge deal! This will be the moment the gospel, as Jesus said it would, goes to the gentiles. This will be the moment when this faith is no longer a Jewish religion, but a global religion. Peter’s breakthrough, his revelation, was that God shows no partiality. Cornelius doesn’t have to become a Jew before becoming a Christian because God doesn’t favor one nationality or culture. This understanding changes everything about the future of Christianity paving the way for it to take over the whole Roman Empire and eventually travel all around the world.
This is one of those weird passages where I am preaching a sermon on a sermon. Peter arrives and Cornelius is ready to hear whatever it is that Peter has to say. Peter now has to summarize his three years with Jesus into one clear message. This is important, because we get to see what is most important to Peter. What is necessary for Cornelius and the rest of the crowd to hear and understand.
Do you know what we don’t hear Peter say? You need to change the way you dress. You need to change the people you hang out with. You need to change the music you listen to. You need to change your sexual habits. You need to change the way you vote. You need to understand doctrines like election, ecclesiology, and polity. Now, I’m not saying those things are not important or that I don’t have strong opinions on them. I’m saying that they come later.
I have a friend named Pat Morely who founded Man in the Mirror ministries and I’ve heard him say numerous times that we aren’t here to change behavior, we are here to show people Jesus. Then we let the Holy Spirit do his work! This passage is a great illustration of that truth. Peter stands up in front of these men and shows them three things. See, that’s not the baptist in me, I’m just doing what the apostles did. Three points. Peter shows them the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus.
- The life of Jesus 36-39
Peter begins by telling them about the word, the message God sent first to Israel. This word is the good news of peace. Not world peace, although that is the final outcome of things. This word was a word of peace between God and man. And this is something that was just assumed in that day, but is attacked in our day. They knew that, in our natural state, we are not ok with God. Paul says all of us have gone astray. All of us have rebelled. All of us have declared ourselves a type of God by deciding that we are not going to live the way he wants us to, but the way we want to. And rebelling against a holy God brings an eternal punishment.
This is where I find I lose most people these days. Eternal punishment. That just sounds archaic. Well, most eternally true things are true through the centuries. I have an analogy I normally use that I realize I need to switch up. I was speaking to a large group in, let's say, a more conservative environment. The point I was trying to make is that the more important the person you offend, the greater the punishment. If you punch me in the face, you may go to jail, but you’ll sleep in your own bed tonight. If you punch the Governor, you’re going to prison. But then, I took it a step farther and said, but if you were to punch the president of the United States...and before I could finish, the crowd started cheering. My analogy was over at that point. I’d never seen anything like it. And in that moment, it hit me. This is a picture of the true state of our hearts toward God. Cheering about the idea of disobeying him. And this God being the perfect, eternal creator of all things….if you sin against him, the punishment is eternal.
But, through Jesus, who is Lord of all, peace is proclaimed. Peace isn’t just proclaimed by Jesus, peace with God is accomplished through Jesus. Then in verse 37, Peter says, you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea. That’s interesting. He’s assuming these Roman soldiers down by the sea had heard what had happened. Jesus’ life had made such a large impact that you could just assume anyone in the whole region who you ran into would have heard not just about him, but all he had done. To run into someone who had not heard would be like running into someone who had not heard that there is a pandemic today. Some news is so important that you just assume anyone you meet has already heard.
Then Peter starts with Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Jesus’ baptism was a huge part of his ministry that we can so easily skim past. Do you realize that all four gospels begin with Jesus’ baptism? All four! There are two reasons this event was so important. I’ll get to the second later, but the first reason, and the primary reason, is that this was the moment that God the Father authenticated or validated Jesus’ ministry. John didn’t even want to baptize Jesus. He said, “You should be baptizing me!” Let’s read what happened next from Matthew’s account. Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized,immediately he went up from the water, and behold, othe heavens were opened to him,3and he psaw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, qa voice from heaven said, r“This is my beloved Son,4 with whom I am well pleased.” - Matthew 3:16,17
What I imagine to be a booming voice confirmed to all thta Jesus was validated by God the Father and the dove like vision confirmed that Jesus was validated by God the Spirit. Jesus comes with the authentication and validation of God. But, Cornelius, you’ve already heard all this. You’ve heard how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Everyone has!
You’ve heard how Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil. Jesus did this because God was with him. And what you’ve heard is no lie. I am a witness to it.
Jesus’ life was not like anyone else’s. He not only did some good things, he only did good...all the time. He did not sin. Paul writing to the Corinthians calls Jesus the man who knew no sin. That’s also important. Not only was he anointed by God, but he also honored God in every way. No human has ever done this before. But, Peter doesn’t stop there! Not only was he anointed by God and honored him in every way, he also displayed authority over the spiritual realm. Healing people not only of physical ailments, but spiritual oppression by Satan. No one else has ever done any of this in their earthly lives, but Jesus did all of it. But, Cornelius, you have heard all this.
But, remember I said there was a secondary aspect to Jesus’ baptism. When John hesitated to baptize Jesus, Jesus said, “It is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” Fitting. Jesus came to identify with us in every way. All that we go through, he would also go through. This would include the Jewish traditions of that time, but it also meant enduring every temptation and trial that we do.
In talking about Jesus’ life, Peter is emphasizing Jesus’ humanity. If he weren’t fully human, enduring all the temptations that we face, he would not have been a viable substitute for us. But because Jesus really lived a full life, tempted in every way the author of Hebrews can say, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. -Hebrews 4:15.
Then, Peter moves from Jesus’ life to Jesus’ death.
- Jesus death
This is just one half of one verse uThey put him to death by hanging him on a tree, - Acts 10:39b In spite of the fact that he lived a perfect life. In spite of the fact that he continually put others first. In spite of all the good he did healing people, feeding people, and freeing people from spiritual oppression, they killed him. But, he was the holy one anointed and confirmed by God the Father and Holy Spirit! Why would they want to kill him? Because he was confirmed by God the Father and Holy Spirit. It was Jesus’ credible claim to be God that sent the Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, and priests into a panic.
They tried every means possible to argue with Jesus, to challenge Jesus, to spread lies about Jesus, but nothing worked. The people were following him. They were trusting him. So they did the only thing they could think to do. They hung him on a tree and crucified him.
This is the day we call Good Friday. That might sound weird. I remember the first time I really looked at this about 20 years ago. I thought, “Man, I’m glad it wasn’t me that killed Jesus!” I thought that because I didn’t understand what happened on that cross. As Jesus hung on that cross, the full wrath of God was poured on him. This is why Jesus called out “my God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” The judgment that we deserve was being poured out on him. And because Jesus was paying the price for my sin on that cross, I was as guilty as everyone there that day of Jesus’ murder. But when I realized this, I understood that this is how peace would be restored. Jesus didn’t die for his friends, he died for his enemies. For while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.
You can’t have peace unless you realize that it was your sin that sent Jesus to the cross and it was your sin that was dealt with on that cross. This is why we call that Friday good. On that day, what the Pharisees meant for evil, what the Sadducees meant for evil, what the scribes and priests meant for evil, and what Satan himself meant for evil, God meant for good. The murder of the only truly good person ever to walk the earth has now become the only truly acceptable sacrifice for us to be restored to God. By his wounds we are healed.
And in so doing, Jesus defined love for the world. One pastor writes, “Jesus’ death wasn’t just an act of love, it defines love.” John writes, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. - 1 John 3:16. Jesus voluntarily laid down his life for us permanently defining the way we are to love each other.
How are we doing with that? Are we putting others before ourselves? Are we believing the best before we gossip? Are we putting down our comforts, privileges, and even rights for the building up of others? Or are we breaking them down? Are we doing to others what we would want them to do to us? If we aren’t, there is a deficiency of love in your heart that can only be fixed by running to Jesus and seeing the way he first loved you.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. But that would not be the end of the story. Peter finishes by telling them that he didn’t stay dead. God raised him up.
III. The resurrection of Jesus 40-43
Peter proclaims, 40 but vGod raised him on wthe third day and made him to xappear, 41 ynot to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as zwitnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. - Acts 10:40,41
Jesus did not stay dead. He was raised from the dead and when that happened, Paul says he became the first fruits for all who would believe in him. In the off chance that we have some non-farmers here today, the first fruits of a harvest are incredibly important because they are the indicators of what the whole harvest will be like. If the first grapes are good, the wine will be good. If the first olives are plentiful, the rest of the harvest will be plentiful. So, how is Jesus the first fruits for us?
Well, what is true of Jesus? He isn’t dead anymore. He’s resurrected. And some parts of his resurrected body are similar to his old body. They can recognize him as Jesus. They can touch him. He isn’t Casper The Ghost. He’s eating and drinking. But he walks through walls. He disappears and reappears. He lives never to die again. And what is true of Jesus’ resurrected body will be true of ours… because he is our first fruit.
Then comes the bombshell. Verse 4242 And ahe commanded us to preach to the people and to testify bthat he is the one appointed by God to be judge cof the living and the dead. 43 dTo him eall the prophets bear witness that feveryone who believes in him receives gforgiveness of sins hthrough his name. - Acts 10:42,43
Did you hear it? Everyone who believes in him. Everyone. This phrase would have struck like a thunderbolt to everyone listening and every in the first century reading this account by Luke. This wasn’t just for Israel anymore, it is now for everyone. All who believe in Jesus. The promise from so long ago that through the descendant of Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed. This is the moment it happens. The gospel is going to the gentiles. They aren’t first made Jews and then Christians, they are made Christians by their faith in the resurrected Christ.
Luke writes in verse 44 that 44 While Peter was still saying these things, ithe Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. These things. The things we have been talking about. This is what led to their entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Did you notice what these things did not include? There’s nothing about ecclesiolgy or polity. There isn’t anything about a sexual ethic or church membership. Do I think all those things are important down the road? Yes! But the key is 'down the road.’ At this moment they need Jesus and that is what Peter is giving them.
A Christian ethical system and a robust Christian theology are for Christians. Cornelius and his cohort are not Christians and Peter is giving them the news they need to follow Christ and become a Christian, then comes everything else.
I shared the gospel once with a college student, actually a starting lineman for an SEC school who was about to get kicked off the team for a bad attitude. After I shared the gospel, he indicated that he was interested in following Jesus and I told him he needed to go and talk to God about that. He needed to pray for faith and give himself to Jesus. A week later, we met back up and I was going to ask my normal follow up questions after a meeting like that, but I couldn’t get one word out. He said, “Man, we need to talk! I think I’m a Christian! I feel so different. I was reading what the Bible says about a wife and my girlfriend didn’t match up so I broke up with her! I was reading about the Holy Spirit and I think he’s inside of me. You need to explain that! I was reading that I need to be prepared to give an answer for my faith and I need you to help me to do that. The whole football team needs Jesus!” Five weeks later he was team captain.
He met Jesus and Jesus changed him. And that’s exactly what’s happening in our passage. Verse 45 45 And the believers from among jthe circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because kthe gift of the Holy Spirit lwas poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them mspeaking in tongues and extolling God. - Acts 10:45, 46
The Spirit was poured out on them that very moment. They didn’t have to prove their worth through good behavior or church membership, they just had to trust in Jesus. The apostles were there (as we have looked at already) to confirm what is happening. This is why the signs and wonders came. So the apostles could see with proof that They are true Christians without having to become Jewish first.
Is this message the message we are preaching? The way to preach the gospel to others is here. Now, they may not be as ready as Cornelius. They may need to hear one part at a time in the context of a real relationship, but our message is clear. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit does the rest.
I like to fish. Sometimes, growing up we would drift fish for yellowtail offshore. We sit there with the bait in the water and all of a sudden the line would start tearing out and all we had to do was flip the bail and the fish was caught. That’s what evangelism feels like. The rod and reel are like a real relationship. The bait is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And then one day, the line starts tearing out. They start reading large portions of Scripture, they start wanting to talk and ask questions. You can see their desires and convictions changing. They’re caught. Not by us, but by Jesus.
Do we believe that these words Peter is preaching are every bit as true and powerful today? Do we believe that this is for everyone? Peter is preaching to people he would have otherwise not even let into his own home. Are we doing the same. Are we in real relationships sharing the gospel with people who would otherwise not be in our lives at all?
This event in this passage radically changed the whole world’s view of what Christianity is and who it is for. How is it changing ours?